Roctober Magazine

By Gentleman John Battles
(Photograph by Jim Newberry)

(From Roctober #44, 2007)

Blue Cheer were, in their heyday, the loudest and most feared band on the planet. Their savage breakthrough LP, 1968's "Vincebus Eruptum," and concurrent 45 release, a brutal reworking of Eddie Cochran's classic, "Summertime Blues," destroyed everything in it's path, and laid the groundwork for Heavy Metal, Punk, Grunge, and the latter day Stoner Rock movement. The outstanding follow-up LP, "Outside Inside" only served to further raise the bar, but, the classic lineup soon began to fall apart, with singer and bassist, Dickie Peterson, the only man left standing from the original Power Trio. With a revolving door policy in effect, the later Blue Cheer lineups recorded some enjoyable, if comparatively sedate, material, and Peterson bore the brunt of Rock 'n' Roll excess and artistic discontent. The band officially called it quits in 1972, though, Peterson, who'd obtained the rights to the Blue Cheer name, would not give up without a fight. While he instigated several comeback attempts in the 70s and 80s, it wasn't until the early-to-mid 80s Heavy Metal revival (and it WAS a revival, not anything particularly new, kiddies), which found Dickie reunited with his long lost friend and original drummer, Paul Whaley, that Blue Cheer became, once again, a force to be reckoned with. Peterson and Whaley have worked together ever since, barring the odd hiatus here and there. The two have played, primarily, for the last 20 years, with guitarist, Andrew "Duck" MacDonald, late of Savoy Brown (MacDonald informs me that he and Dickie met in a Western movie standoff over an open bottle of whiskey. The two parties decided that it would be more fun to drink it together than to fight over it...though Dickie claims Duck kicked his ass). Until recently, the band was based in Germany, a stronghold of their popularity. Upon returning to the states, Duck concluded, "We've got to do what the younger bands are doing, so we're touring all over the country in a white van with a crew of just two people, besides ourselves." When they come to your town, that's exactly what you'll see, no entourage, no hangers-on, just three basically nice guys who play basically not nice music. Dickie Peterson, today, is one of the great, unsung, elder spokesmen of Rock 'n' Roll. There's probably nothing you could tell him that he hasn't already seen or heard, but, he takes a genuine concern for the people around him, and doesn't gloat over the fact that, yes, his week beats your year. Dickie (like each Blue Cheer member) maintains a one-on-one relationship with his fans that's rare in this day and age. They're still living by the philosophy of Rock 'n' Roll as a communal force. They're no-bullshit people making no-bullshit music. While they're still being lambasted by critics (the Chicago Tribune crucified them after their appearance at Intonation fest, yet, Dickie turned up on the front page, right above the American flag!), and life on the road (they've been touring almost nonstop since returning to the states. By the time you read this, they will have played the Chicagoland area FOUR TIMES in well under a year) can take it's toll on men their age, The Cheer's "Never Say Die" spirit should serve as an inspiration to anyone in their field that's been stepped on more than a few times. As my friend, Jeff Dahl, called 'em. "Punks before YOU were a Punk," and they're STILL kicking my punk-ass. They'll kick yours, too, though with music, not physical violence. They still may not be the kind of guys you'd want to take home to meet Mom, though they are the kind you should be proud to call your friends, in plain earshot of your mom. This band still represents the remnants of the late Sixties dream -- the idea that people should look out for each other (which also flourished briefly, but died just as fast, with the punk movement), and that we should all have each other's backs, not with weapons, but with commitment and concern. They're ready to take a stand for their fans, just as their fans have done for them. Dickie's lived more than a few lives by now, all of them real, and he's nothing if not a great storyteller....

"He said, Quote: "DIG THIS, BOY!!!"

"Paul Whaley and I started Blue Cheer in 1966. I'd been playing in a band called Group B, which later changed its name to Andrew Staples. They fired me because they wanted to play four-point Baroque, and I wanted to play Rock 'n' Roll. They'd catch me playing Chuck Berry songs whenever there was a break in practice, and they'd say, "What the Hell are you doing?! You're supposed to be playing BACH!" During the time I was in Group B, I was hanging out with Paul Whaley a lot. He was with a group called Oxford Circle, and I really loved what those guys were doing, Yardbirds, Them, that sort of thing. So, after they kicked me out of Group B, I asked Paul if he wanted to start a band with me, and he said, "Yeah," so, that's how Blue Cheer began. We started out as a six-piece Blues band, and we went through a lot of different people. We had two guitarists, my Brother, Jerre Peterson, and Leigh Stephens. We would play anywhere people would let us play! We played at "The Original Human Be-In" in the summer of '67. Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsburg and all these other people were there. We ended up doing the soundtrack for a short film about the event. It looks really crazy, cause sometimes the filmmakers who were around, then, were just as stoned as the musicians were! That was with the six piece, but, that lineup fell apart pretty quickly. One time, we were doing a gig, and the other guys weren't doing anything at all, so, Leigh, Paul, and I stopped playing, and the only guy still playing anything was my Brother! The other two guys left, and we tried playing out as a four-piece, but, my brother left the group, right before a gig. Now, my brother was the primary singer in the group at that time. He was a good guitarist, a good lead singer, and he did good harmony vocals. I didn't consider myself a singer, but, we had to do that gig, so I had to work it out. After that, we became a three-piece. People think we were trying to be like Cream or Hendrix, but, that's not how it was at all. I've always loved Hendrix, don't get me wrong. We still do some of his songs. As far as Cream is concerned, I especially loved the way Jack Bruce played the bass and sang, but, we were nothing like them. We decided, however, that this is what we wanted to do, to go in for a heavier sound. We had been playing for about a year when we went in to record our first album. We basically did our live show, the same songs, the same setup. The first day was a disaster, we blew out the studio's echo chamber. They weren't too happy about that! (Jeff Dahl notes, in his liners to the "Louder Than God, The Best of Blue Cheer," that this had only happened twice before, with full orchestras) We didn't know much about working in the studio, but we went back, and, in all, it only took three days to record it. We didn't have to rehearse for that, all the material on "Vincebus Eruptum," all the changes, all the solos, were played exactly like our live show. We did "Parchment Farm," which was a Jazz standard, written by Mose Allison as "Parchman Farm" (Elvis Presley's father, Vernon, did time on the infamous prison farm of the same name - John) I don't know what Mose Allison thought about it, but, I'm sure he likes getting those royalty checks! As a matter of fact, I lived down the street from Mose Allison for a while, in San Francisco, but I never got to ask him what he thought of Blue Cheer's "Parchment Farm." It probably made his little bald head spin! Of course, "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran, was the one that really took off, so did the album, and it all happened very quickly for us. Too quickly. I was 19, and, suddenly, I had all this money. But, it ended just as quickly as it began. When you're that young, you forget about the people you knew coming up. You can't forget about your friends. I learned that the hard way, you can't forget about your friends. The people in the audience, now, they're like my extended family. I tell them they're the fourth member of Blue Cheer, and that's no lie. It's great that we get so many different kinds of people coming to our shows. We've had people bringing their kids, which is great, keeping it in the family.

We did several TV shows on the strength of the single, "Summertime Blues." We got to do The Steve Allen Show, partly because Mercury Records got on their case, but, mainly because we were with The Phillip Morris Agency. That was the top agency in America at the time. I remember Steve Allen saying that when you go to see a musical, there are certain tunes you can walk away humming to yourself, but, you couldn't do that with us! We did Bandstand, but, we weren't exactly what American Bandstand had expected! At the time, we were being managed by "Gut" Terkl, who'd been a Hell's Angel, and Gut and I were sitting in the dressing room, smoking a bowl of hash, and Dick Clark walked in, and looked at us, and he says, " PEOPLE LIKE YOU GIVE ROCK 'n' Roll A BAD NAME!" We looked back at him, and we said, "Thank you very much!" That was the last time we were ever on Bandstand. In Germany, we appeared on Beat Club and Rockpalast, that was with Randy Holden, as Leigh Stephens had left by then. The band was lip synching, Randy was miming to Leigh's parts on "Summertime Blues" on Beat Club and "The Hunter" on Rockpalast. We did a show in Germany where the music was taken off the recording, and the vocal was done live. So, I was singing, but, Randy didn't sing. He sang the three songs on one album, "New! Improved!," but, by then, we didn't want Randy, not because Randy's not a good guitar player, but, because his method of operating and working in a band didn't coincide with ours. That was the crux of Paul and I not being able to deal with Randy. There was not enough lateral movement in his approach to what the music is. I'm a bass player. I write my songs on the bass, and I sing playing the bass, and, if a guitar player looks at me and says, "What do you want me to do?," all I can look back at him and say is, "Look, if you don't know what to do, I want a guitar player that DOES…" Our music is not really complicated, it's what I call lateral movement. Duck can do a solo that is much longer than anything we've rehearsed. I like that. We know what's gonna happen, we are in touch with one another. I call it the umbilical chord. It's an invisible chord that's attached to our belly buttons that runs between all three of us, and, actually, even our soundman. I've played with Paul for 40 years. I know when it's a good night and when it's a bad night, and we don't have to tell each other what is what. We know. Nobody has to come off stage and rag you. Nobody rags you worse that YOU do. Now, I've come offstage feeling I've had a VERY bad night, and been confronted with people that feel I had a very GOOD night, but, I think that's the dilemma of every performer.

By the time of the second album, "Outside Inside," they just decided that they could not control us in the studio. I've always hated the studio. I much prefer playing live. They had us playing on one pier in New York, and another one in San Francisco, then, they put the embellishments on it in the studio. "Voco" Kesh, our producer, came up with all these studio effects that I knew nothing about. I didn't know what a phlanger was, or how phasing worked. I really liked the way these songs came out, but, we said to ourselves, "How are we gonna do this stuff, live?" At some point, Leigh just lost interest. He kind of distanced himself from the rest of us, so, we fired him, then we brought in Randy, which, as I said, did not work out. Randy's doing fine, though. So's Gary Yoder (Guitarist/Vocalist with Oxford Circle, Kak, and on Blue Cheer's last two LPs on Phillips). As a matter of fact, I jammed with Gary, not last summer, but the summer before, in the town of Davis, California, where he came from, and where Oxford Circle came from. He went back home. He has a swimming pool cleaning service, and he plays his guitar, and sings his songs, in clubs in and around that area. I jammed with several of the guys from the old Oxford Circle that day. He got married, I think, to Weaver, who was our house girl, took care of the house and stuff. So, he's doing fine. I'm glad that Gary and Randy are both doing well. Everybody in this band, that has been affiliated with this band, is doing well. I'm glad, because there's a few that aren't around. I do like some of the later Blue Cheer songs, because I'm a songwriter, and that's part of the reason why I created Mother Ocean (a blues based side project featuring Dickie and Eighties B.C. guitarist, Tony Rainier. Their repertoire includes songs from different phases of Blue Cheer's career), because I am a songwriter. Not every song I write is something that should be used in Blue Cheer. Sometimes, I write Country songs. I write Blues songs, I write Rock n'' Roll songs...I don't know WHAT'S gonna actually come out when I sit down and write. I just get an idea, and I say, "Hey, man, where can I take this," and I start playing around with it, and it winds up SOMETHING. I'm not sophisticated enough to sit down and say, "Ohh, I'm going to write about the smell of the flowers." Some songs come in 10 minutes, some songs have taken me 20 years. You have to formulate an organized piece of music that people can work with. When we were based in Germany, in the 90s, we became friends with The Groundhogs-Tony McPhee, Mickey Jones and Dave Anderson. Dave engineered our album, "Highlights and Lowlives," which is one of my favorite Blue Cheer records. There's a song on there called "Blues Cadillac," which was a CD-only bonus track. I've always liked that song. I was doing it when Blue Cheer reformed in the 80s, but, really, I was doing that as far back as 1972, with a band called Peterbilt, not long after Blue Cheer split up. Tony McPhee came by, and played slide guitar on "When Two Spirits Touch" on the album, "Dining With The Sharks." Mickey and Dave were on it, too (Note: Tony McPhee announced, a few years ago, that he was planning to retire The Groundhogs. Reportedly, he's still fronting a version of the group, whose lifespan has since passed the 40 year mark, while another group, The Groundhogs Rhythm Section, featuring members of the classic lineup, has recently turned up, sans McPhee. One is strongly urged to check out The Groundhogs' back catalogue - John) That was the last studio album we did, over 15 years ago, but we do have our new album, which is almost completed. It's been 40 years since Blue Cheer started. I made the decision, when I was about 15, that I was going to be a musician, that's all there was to it. I just didn't know I was going to do Blue Cheer! Paul and I have been playing together for 40 years, and Duck has been playing with us for 20 years, but, here in the states, he's "The new guy." We hadn't really toured the U.S. in over 20 years. People are seeing this lineup for the first time, here in the states. But, this band has been through high, low, it's been through some very dark, dark places of the human psyche, and I'm really proud of the fact that it's still standing, and it still rocks. As I said before, our longevity in doing that, and going through all that stuff that we went through, as human beings will go through, there was a lot of self-abuse involved. The things that go with having a hit record when you're 19 years old, and then you turn 25, and you realize that everybody still wants you to be 19 years old. They don't WANT you to be 25. Better off you died at 20! You go through many changes when these things are all around you. I could tell you, honestly, I DON'T understand why I'm still standing. I've done things with people that I know have died from it, personal friends of mine. I wrote a song that's going to be on the new album called "Young Lions in Paradise." It's not about Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, or any of these people. It's about these cats, and ladies, that were my friends, and many people's friends.

When I was living in Germany, they treated me real well, not to say they put me on a pedestal, but, they really love their music, there. But, as I say, we felt it was time to come home. I remember the last gig we did in Chicago, in 1971. We were playing at The Beaver Club. There were two people on the dance floor that took off their clothes and started fucking, and the police came, and our road crew shoved us out the back door, and we all got into separate taxicabs and went to the airport, cause they really wanted us for creating a disorderly situation. We were told to leave town. As far as San Francisco is concerned, we didn't relate to the San Francisco music scene, which was influenced by Folk and stuff like that. We were more influenced by Blues, and we wanted to expand on that. We were teenagers, and that anger had to come out, and, in our case, it came out through our music."

Message to the fans: "I'd like to say, just to keep Rock 'n' Roll alive, man, cause it's very magical, and it's really a tool that everybody should use, whether you're listening, or whether you're playing, no matter what. No matter what it is you do, there's something there that's of value for you, and I really believe in Rock 'n' Roll.." "Without a little bit of soul, you know, it wouldn't be right. That screamin' guitar, it wouldn't sound so outasite!" - "Heart Full Of Soul," Dickie Peterson.

Thanks: Duck MacDonald, Paul Whaley, Jake Austen, Jeff Dahl, Derek. For Jerre Peterson and Ralph Burns Kellogg.

Blue Cheer covers include: "Summertime Blues" (as per their arrangement)-Ventures, Elvis Hitler, Goblins, Rush (combined with The Who's arrangement). "Out Of Focus" - Redd Kross. "Parchment Farm" -Deadmoon (altered, but influenced by Blue Cheer's version), "Magnolia Caboose Babyfinger" (as "Magnolia Caboose Babyshit")- Mudhoney. "Come and Get It" - Sick Rose. The Blue Cheer Tribute CD, "Blue Explosion" is highly recommended, if you can find a copy.

Partial Blue Cheer discography:
"Vincebus Eruptum" (1968) Phillips
"OutsideInside" (1968) Phillips
"New! Improved!" (1969) Phillips
"Blue Cheer" (1969) Phillips
"B.C.#5-The Original Human Being" (1970) Phillips
"Oh, Pleasant Hope!" (1971) Phillips
"The Beast Is.....Back" (1984) Megaforce
"Louder Than God...The Best of Blue Cheer" (1986) Rhino
"Good Times Are So Hard To Find" (compilation) (1987) Mercury
"Blitzkrieg Over Nuremburg" (live) (1988) Magnum Music Group (UK)
"Highlights and Low Lives" (1989) Magnum Music Group
"Dining With The Sharks" (1991) Niebelung (Germany)
"Live and Unreleased-1968-74" (1994?) Captain Trips (Japan)
"Live and Unreleased-1968" Captain Trips (1996)
"Hello Tokyo, Goodbye, Osaka" (live) (1997) Captain Trips
"Live in Japan" (2003) Track
"Live Bootleg London-Hamburg" (2005) Rockview
"What Doesn't Kill You" (2007) Rainman (see review this issue)